Goran Hugo Olsson’s new documentary Concerning Violence examines colonialism in Africa, drawing upon a wealth of archival Swedish news footage and tying the film together with text from Frantz Fanon’s 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth. Excerpts from Fanon are read by Lauryn Hill, whose narration compellingly communicates Fanon’s ideas. I saw the film recently at the Sundance Film Festival.
The film is deliberately structured like a book. As the full title, Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense, suggests, it’s divided into nine chapters. These chapters cover a diverse range of stories of colonialism and resistance.
One scene shows an interview with a racist in a Rhodesia who fears that black “terrorists” may soon gain power and laments that black people openly express desire for wealth and independence. Another follows guerrilla fighters attacking a Portuguese military base in the territory now called Angola. Swedish interviewers speak to Christian missionaries who are working to impose monogamy upon African populations. Racist colonists and rebellious natives both are filmed in countries across Africa.
To me the most powerful parts of the film are those that expose the brutal violence and exploitation at the heart of colonialism. One particularly illuminating scene shows a miner’s strike at European owned mine in Liberia. The Liberian military was sent in to suppress the strike. The president argued that the workers should have simply filed their grievances with the government before striking, and that he sent in the troops to prevent violence. One of the soldiers is then interviewed, describing his orders to initiate violence. It’s a revealing portrayal of how economic exploitation and inequity is backed up by state violence.
Another incredibly important scene portrays how NATO forces attempted to stop anti-colonial rebels by dropping napalm bombs on entire villages of civilians. While those who defend themselves from imperialism are to this day labeled “terrorists,” Western powers waged campaigns of terror to maintain colonial domination.
Perhaps the most disturbing image in the film is a woman whose arm has been hacked off, making her appear reminiscent of the Venus de Milo statue. She nurses her similarly injured child in a hospital, their appalling injuries a visceral portrait of colonialist violence.
These and other scenes are tied together by the words of Frantz Fanon, emblazoned as text upon the screen and read aloud passionately by musician and activist Lauryn Hill. Fanon’s text tells of how natives are driven to violent resistance under colonialism, of the economic injustice colonialism fosters, of the dehumanization inherent in colonialism, of the violence enacted by police and military forces on behalf of colonial governments.
This movie is too short to show viewers a full picture of colonialism. Instead, we are given brief vignettes that show us examples of colonization and decolonization. We are shown excerpts from Frantz Fanon’s incisive psychological analysis of colonialism. Hopefully this entices viewers to research more about colonization, resistance movements, and Fanon’s work. If not, it should at least provide an inkling of the world we live in: A world where prisons, warfare, and police violence enable massive economic exploitation, crime, and racism.
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